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Socio-economic disparity and the Kurdish issue 23 janvier 2008

Posted by Acturca in Turkey / Turquie.
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Turkish Daily News, 21 January 2008

Nejdan Yildiz *

Understanding the difference between development and inequality through the case of the Kurdish problem in Turkey

Nowadays the major issue in Turkey is the war against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorism. It has been almost three decades since the PKK was established, and it still occupies the political agenda.

“The path of the Kurdish revolution,” which is the founding document of the organization, argued that the Kurdish populated areas of Turkey have been exploited by the ruling classes. That is why southeastern Turkey has been extremely under-developed compared to the western regions, claimed the document.

On the other hand, Turkish governments have initiated several development projects in the southeast in order to address regional inequality in Turkey. Public investment increased rapidly throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. Moreover, public investment in the southeast has been higher than the government’s income. That tendency implied that there had been transfer of wealth from western to eastern regions of Turkey.

Despite high public investment in the Kurdish populated regions, the conflict has not ended. This led to diverse opinions regarding the Kurdish problem. The first group argued that reducing socio-economic inequality was not sufficient to resolve the problem. It claimed that socio-economic development should be complemented by political reforms and democratization. The second group was more hard-line. It was implicitly argued that the main problem of Kurds was not economic inequality and underdevelopment, but political independence from Turkey. Hence, whatever developmental policy Turkish governments pursue, the conflict would not end. Therefore, it was claimed that the conflict could only be resolved by military means.

By the time that these opinions were expressed, the main development project of the Turkish government was the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP). So, both groups assumed GAP as a successful project in reducing socio-economic inequalities and formulated their views on the basis of that assumption. However, high public investment does not directly prove that these policies meet the objectives. There is a fundamental difference between inequality and development. A project might enhance the socio-economic level of a particular region but at the same time the regional socio-economic inequality in that country persists.

Development and inequality

Unfortunately that is the case in Turkey. GAP brought about tremendous achievements in southeastern Turkey. The income per capita has risen from $981 in 1987 to $1,532 in 2000 changing by 56 percent; the share of agricultural employees decreased rapidly; the gross domestic product (GDP) of the region increased 35 percent between 1990 and 2000; new hospitals and schools were established; people/doctors proportion increased from 0.003 percent to 0.006 percent.

On the other hand, the change in income per capita was much less than the average of Turkey which was $1,629 in 1987 and $2,941 in 2000; the share of agricultural employees was still 20 percent higher than the average for Turkey; the gross national product per capita only increased from $1,029 (current prices) in 1990 to $1,045 in 2001; despite the rise in the number of hospitals in the region, its proportion to the national number decreased from 6.7 percent in 1980 to 5.9 percent in 2000; people/doctors ratio continued to be below the national average which was 0.014 percent.

The numbers reflect that southeastern Turkey developed rapidly as a result of GAP while regional inequality in Turkey persisted and even grew in particular fields. Therefore, there is no direct link between promoting regional development and eradicating regional inequality in Turkey. Hence, there is no direct causation between development projects and ending the conflict either. That is why it is unfair to argue that development projects in southeastern Turkey failed to end the conflict. These projects cannot achieve that goal because the cause of the conflict is socio-economic disparity in Turkey, which is structured on the basis of ethnic lines.

* Nejdan Yildiz is a Fulbright Scholar, MA candidate, International Affairs, The New School and has a BA in International Relations from Istanbul Bilgi University


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